Reviews in this issue:
- After Forever - Mea Culpa (Duo Review)
- Communic - Waves Of Visual Decay
- Derek Sherinian - Blood Of The Snake (Duo Review)
- Solid Vision - Hurricane
- Ebony Ark – Decoder
- Riverside - Voices In My Head
- Prototype - Continuum
- Scott Mosher - Deep Horizon
- Via Mistica – Under My Eyelids
- Beyond Twilight - For The Love Of Art And The Making
- Delicate Zone - Wallpaper To The World
- Sandstone - Looking For Myself
- Tears - Emptiness [EP]
After Forever- Mea Culpa
Chapter 1: Mea Culpa (1:50), Follow In The Cry (4:04), Yield To Temptation (5:51), Silence From Afar (5:52), Wings Of Illusion (7:21), Beyond Me (6:11), Forlorn Hope (6:21), For The Time Being (5:04), Imperfect Tenses (4:09), Monolith Of Doubt (3:31), Intrinsic (6:53), Emphasis (4:17), My Pledge Of Allegiance #1 (6:26), Who Wants To Live Forever (4:47)
Chapter 2: The Evil That Men Do (3:18), Glorifying Means (5:00), My Choice (4:01), Beneath (4:52), Digital Deceit (4:07), Two Sides (3:15), Sins Of Idealism (4:10), Eccentric (4:35), Life's Vortex (4:35), Blind Pain (4:16), Being Everyone (3:08), Face Your Demons (4:57), Taste The Day (2:54), Boundaries Are Open (3:29), Come (5:04), Attendance (3:03), Live And Learn (4:23), Strong (3:41)
Martien Koolen's Review
The Dutch symphonic metal band After Forever have been around now for 10 years and after working for Transmission Records for 6 years they decided to change record labels. This "farewell album" consists of the best tracks that After Forever recorded with Transmission. Among others there are songs with great musicians like Sharon den Adel, Arjen Lucassen, Damien Wilson en Marco Hietala. Furthermore the album features previously unreleased songs, non-album tracks, alternatives mixes, rarities and previously unreleased remixes, making this a special album for all the fans. The album is divided into two parts: Chapter 1 features the AF episode with guitar player/composer Mark Jansen and Chapter 2 contains all the songs that were recorded after Jansen left to form Epica.
"Mea Culpa", the Latin title refers to the Roman Catholic native region in the south of The Netherlands from which the band originates, is NOT the beginning of the end. On the contrary: this collection simply marks the end of the beginning!!
The artwork of the album is sheer magic, just check out the extensive 44 page booklet and you know what I mean.
For people who are not familiar with the CDMs Follow In The Cry (2000), Monolith Of Doubt (2002), Emphasis (2002), Exordium (2003), My Choice (2003), Digital Deceit (2004), Being Everyone (2005) and Two Sides (2006) this album is extra worthwhile as lots of songs from those albums are featured here. For die-hard fans there are only three "new" interesting pieces to discover: Life's Vortex (unreleased single version), Attendance (unreleased industrial remix) and a piano version of Strong taken from the SACD version of Remagine.
A fantastic album of an amazing band, only two misses, namely the covers Who Wants To Live Forever (Queen) and The Evil That Men Do (Iron Maiden).
Hopefully After Forever will release a lot of new and great albums in the near future, but for the moment you can enjoy this marvellous compilation!!!
Dries Dokter's Review
The break up of After Forever and their record label Transmission is one that is subject to a number of explanations, and although there more than 40 pages in the CD booklet it does not give an explanation of the break-up. It simply states that this is the end of the beginning. In any case this is the closure of an era. This album contains an overview of six years of collaboration between Transmission and After Forever.
Before anything I need to get the following off my chest: this CD is copy protected and I hate that! I tend to rip my CDs to MP3 and put them on my iPod something that is made very hard by copy protected CDs. Next to that I archive my CDs with a tool that retrieves information from the internet. In fact most of the tracklists in reviews I copy and paste in stead of typing them myself. But not with this CD, the copy protection prevented that.
I must admit that the software that starts up once you insert the CD in the computer is pretty good. It shows album covers while playing the tracks, it does give the ability to create audio files for an iPod or even send MP3s to a friend. And it even gives the ability to copy it to a CD-R. It might seem strange this software does everything copy protection should prohibit but of course it does this on the terms of the software. So maybe this is one of the best copy protected CDs this far countering all the complaint people have about copy protection. Still I would just like the freedom of an "ordinary CD". Unfortunately stuff like this is probably needed to help copyright owners protect their property.
After this short side step we still have the music to discuss:
Compilations like this are probably only interesting if you use them to get to know the band or if the compilation itself contains new music. Looking at the tracklist of this album it is very suitable for getting to know the band, as it gives a great overview of their back catalogue and the most important songs have been included. Every stage of the band's development is addressed. If, like me, you already own most of the studio albums then this compilation also has about 15 new tracks in store, a very acceptable number (although some of them are of course different versions of known tracks). If you own the complete After Forever's back catalogue there is only three surprise on this album but then again a die hard fan would want to own this album just because it exists.
Mea Culpa is an A Cappella version of the first track on Prison Of Desire. So this album starts like most of the AF albums: with a choir. Follow In The Cry, Yield To Temptation and Silence From Afar are the same as the Prison Of Desire album version (but with a quality brush up). Wings Of Illusion can be found on the CDM Follow In The Cry, it is an excellent track that would not have been out of place on the afore mentioned Prison Of Desire, probably why it is the bonus track on some versions of this album. Beyond Me also taken from Prison Of Desire, like the album version, is a duet with Within Temptation's Sharon den Adel. Forlorn Hope is taken from the album Decipher. From the same period is For The Time Being which can be found on the CDM Monolith Of Doubt, which also on this compilation. Imperfect Tenses originally a duet with Within Temptation's Caspar de Jonge this version is done by Damian Wilson it is taken from the CDM Emphasis. It makes my realize again what a great voice Wilson has.
Intrinsic , Emphasis, My Pledge Of Allegiance all taken from Decipher but adding only the extra quality. Who Wants To Live Forever is of course a cover of the Queen song again with the excellent voice of Damian Wilson. The second CD starts chapter 2, the After Forever period without Mark Jansen (now Epica). First track is The Evil That Men Do, an Iron Maiden cover that can be found on Exordium but this version is 1,5 minutes shorter. Glorifying Means is also from Exordium, at that time a little disappointment first sign of life without Mark Jansen. My Choice and Beneath are from the same mini album but My Choice in a single version. Digital Deceit (single version) is taken from the first full album of the second era, Invisible Circles, and showed that After Forever could hold ground without Mark Jansen. Two Sides also a single spun-off from the same album. Sins Of Idealism , Eccentric and Blind Pain are taken from the CDM Digital Deceit. Life's Vortex is a previously unreleased single version of an track on the Invisible Circles album. Being Everyone is a track from Remagine, this is the single version. Face Your Demons is a duet with Nightwish's Marco Hietala just like Taste The Day and Live And Learn it can be found on the CDM Being Everyone. Boundaries Are Open is a single version of a Remagine track. Come is a track taken off the Remagine album. Attendance is a previously unreleased remix of a track from the same album. Strong is taken from the SACD version of Remagine.
Above track by track description should make you realize that there are no really new tracks or big surprises on this compilation. It does add some music to my collection that I personally did not own (a track like Wings Of Illusion is a welcome addition) but new or old, all tracks on this album are examples of the gothic/metal/progressive/rock mix that After Forever seems to hold patent to. If you passed several chances to get acquainted with After Forever then at least take this one. I am not too fond of compilation albums but must admit that this After Forever overview is certainly one of the better. Taking into account that the album is released by Transmission I was hoping for an SACD version but I will settle for this version, as it does deserve our DPRP recommended label.
Communic - Waves Of Visual Decay
Tracklist: Under A Luminous Sky (8:22), Frozen Asleep In the Park (8:57), Watching It All Disappear (6:54), Fooled by the Serpent (9:00), Waves of Visual Decay (8:12), My Bleeding Victim (6:42), At Dewy Prime (9:47)
It is a fact that some albums are so obviously an essential purchase for any lover of a particular genre, that a review pretty much writes itself. The second release from Norway's Communic is one such album.
If, like me, you were won over by Conspiracy In Mind, the fine slab of progressive metal that announced the arrival of this young band onto the scene last year, then don't even think twice about putting this at the top of your 'must-buy-next-time-I-pass-a-record-shop' list.
Under the guidance of renowned producer Jacob Hansen, this Norwegian trio - consisting of Oddleif Stensland (guitars/vocals), Eric Mortensen (bass) and Tor Alt Andersen (drums) - have come up with an hour-long musical masterclass.
This seven-track fret feast, continues where the debut left off, with the band's ability to blend melodies, staccato solos and power, within complex structures and endless time changes. This is noticeably heavier than the debut, and really does hold a huge crossover potential, appealing to both the more mainstream metal fans of say Nevermore, and those, like me, who like a heavy helping of progressive complexity with their metal.
Thanks to Oddleif's vocal style, the comparison with Nevermore is undeniable. Yet the 'Nevermore clone' label slapped on them by too many lazy reviewers for their debut, is totally unjustified.
Take away the vocal comparison, and Communic come from a different universe. Waves... owes far more to Psychotic Waltz, early Fates Warning and a whole host of the heavier ProgMetal bands than anything that Nevermore have ever even dreamt of recording.
This album requires repeated listens to fully absorb all the ideas employed here. At least two spins are required just to appreciate the amazing drum work by Andersen - just sit in awe of the way that he twists and turns those fills and rhythms practically every eight bars throughout practically every song!! Worth the price of the disk alone.
It's not all perfect. The title track is a bit ploddy and one-dimensional and the final track stands a little too close to the opening track - and pales in comparison. I'm currently undecided as to whether it will have as lasting an appeal for me as the debut. But what really lifts this band above their peers, and is undoubtedly their greatest strength, is that within their sprawling, epic arrangements - the songs provide an ever-beating heart. The band never drowns in self-indulgence - melody and hooks are still the focus for every song.
This is an album that just gets better with every listen. It suggests that Communic are no one hit wonders and are here for a long run. They are due to appear at Holland's Progpower Festival in October, for a set that I hope will leave me as impressed as I am with this album - a disc which you can expect to be sitting somewhere in the region of my Top10 list at the end of the year. Essential.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Derek Sherinian - Blood Of The Snake
Tracklist: Czar of Steel (6:01), Man With No Name (6:53), Phantom Shuffle (4:20), Been Here Before (4:29), Blood Of The Snake (6:09), On The Moon (4:34), The Monsoon (6:05), Prelude To Battle (2:55), Viking Massacre (4:58), In The Summertime (6:32)
Bart Jan van der Vorst's Review
With Blood Of The Snake, Derek Sherinian delivers what is his fifth album under his own name already. After four DPRP recommended albums Planet X, Inertia, Black Utopia and Mythology you think you know what to expect from a Derek Sherinian album. And on the surface, it seems that Blood Of The Snake will deliver just more of the same. The music has once again been written by Sherinian together with his drumming friends Brian Tichy and Simon Phillips, and the album once again features plenty of guest musicians in the form of Sherinian regulars Zakk Wylde, Tony Franklin and Yngwie Malmsteen, along with new collaborators John Petrucci and Slash.
However, Derek Sherinian wouldn't be Derek Sherinian if he hadn't had a couple of tricks up his sleeve. Once again he proves the master of mixing several different styles on one album (and often even within one song), albeit that Blood Of The Snake may be a bit heavier than his previous albums. But the real surprise is that his predominantly instrumental music now features vocals on not one, but two tracks on the album!
And that second of those two tracks will be the track that will undoubtedly generate the most interest in Derek's new album from outside the prog community. In The Summertime, a cover of Mungo Jerry's popular classic from the early Seventies, featuring none other than punk rocker Billy Idol on vocals and former Guns n' Roses guitarist Slash on guitar and Banshee Talkbox. It is a wonderful fun track, which really suits Idol's raw voice. Slash' contribution left me somewhat under-whelmed, yet I am fully aware that this type of song does not need shredding guitar solos. A great and fun track, which ends the album in style. The song will also be released separately on single on September 8th.
But wait a minute. Isn't this a prog site? Aren't we reading a feature on prog metal here? Why does that reviewer go on and on about a cover version of a lame Seventies summer hit? Well, simple, because while In The Summer Time may be anything but prog, it is a welcome light-hearted ending after all the power that has just past in the forty minutes before. Didn't you see me use the word heavy earlier on in the review?
And heavy it is. Album opener Czar Of Steel for example. This is that typical fusion of jazz, prog and metal that Sherinian has perfected over the years. It reunites Sherinian with his former Dream Theater bandmate John Petrucci, and together they battle out a cool keyboard/guitar duel. The end section shows that Petrucci is still one of the greatest (and fastest) guitar players of this time. It also shows what Dream Theater's Falling To Infinity could have sounded like had the record company allowed the band more artistic freedom and had Sherinian himself been allowed more room for his skills by the rest of the band.
The album continues with Man With No Name, the complete opposite of the previous track as this is much more traditional hard rock. Featuring Zakk Wylde on both guitar and vocals (who also co-wrote the music and wrote the lyrics). This is somewhat in the style of old Black Sabbath, much due to the singing style of Wylde.
Much of the remainder of the guitar parts on the album are played by Swedish shredder Yngwie Malmsteen. Viking Massacre - the title obviously a dedication to the Swede - is his showpiece, and also the track closest to his own solo work. The fast-paced track also contains an organ solo which would make John Lord proud. The title track of the album sees Malmsteen and Wylde share guitar duties, each battling out a duel with Sherinian's keyboards in their own style. Much of Sherinian's keyboard-work on this track evolves around a sequencer, which makes the start of the song sound like an updated version to Pink Floyd's On The Run.
Yet it is not just hard-edged guitar heavy compositions that grace Sherinian's album. As always Sherinian proves the master of combining many different styles, and in between the outbursts of metal there are some interesting and unexpected ventures into different territory. Phantom Shuffle is the one that stands out, as this is a funky piece featuring Brandon Fields on saxophone, which resembles the works of Candy Dulfer and is not like anything Sherinian has ever done before.
The saxophone returns in On The Moon which largely sounds like Kenny G style elevator muzak. Fortunately it is saved by a majestic guitar solo at the end. It is a bit of a shock to hear such music on a Derek Sherinian album, but like the rest of the music, this too is executed perfectly.
The aptly titled Been Here Before is the type of guitar ballad which has been featured on most of his albums so far, like Going To The Church on Mythology and Sweet Lament on Black Utopia
With Blood Of The Snake Derek Sherinian delivered yet another album which fully deserves a DPRP recommended tag in my opinion. Even though the formula may be running a bit dry after five albums, I for one still can't get enough of his music. Bring on the next!
Bob Mulvey's Review
Well for the third time in as many years Bart and myself collaborate on another Derek Sherinian release. Now as yet I've not been privy to Bart's thoughts on Blood Of The Snake, but personally I can report that that Derek has come up trumps once again. Musically no new ground has been broken here and we are in the realms of the tried an tested, however Derek's writing skills are more assured than ever - and for those familiar with his previous solo releases can certainly buy this new album without any fear of disappointment.
As with all of his previous solo albums (after Planet X) Derek has assembled a number of fine guitarist to do battle with. This time around we have Dream Theater axeman John Petrucci, Slash and Brad Gillis make their debuts and returning for a second helping is Swedish virtuoso shredder, Yngwie Malmsteen. Yngwie of course featured on the excellent Black Utopia. Co-collaborator Zakk Wilde returns for the fourth time, and joining our six string friends are violinist Jerry Goodman and saxophonist Brandon Fields. The rhythm section remains as impressive as ever with Simon Phillips and Brian Tichy sharing the drumming duties, accompanied by Tony Franklin, Jimmy Johnson and John Deservo on fretted and fretless basses.
Now it finally struck me why I really like the work of Derek Sherinian, well other than the fact he writes great music. It in many ways the much of the music reminds me of another long time hero - Jeff Beck. A lot heavier and a lot less bluesy, but certainly cast from a similar mould. For those familiar with Derek's albums this link has been strengthened in the past with the inclusion of Beck tracks, but for me album opener Czar Of Steel triggered the connection further. Shades of Jan Hammer in the keyboard department. And the more I listened to this album the more this notion grew.
Blood Of The Snake, like previous Sherinian releases, is chock full of gems. From the metallic workouts of the title track and Viking Massacre through the rockier Man With No Name which sees Zakk Wilde turn in a very credible Ozzy Osbourne sound-alike. Then we have the splendid Phantom Shuffle which combines jazzy fusion ideas with metallic keys and a great jazzy sax solo from Brandon Fields. And that in turn drifts into the instrumental guitar ballad - with some great Mellotron sounds and vibrato effected guitar. Mellower moments are provided by the drifting On The Moon - again nice sax from Fields and the ambient Prelude To Battle. And that in turn has an Eastern flavour culled from the Sabbathian riffed The Monsoon. Gosh you should have already ordered this album on line - if not there is still the Seventies summer hit...
Now much has been said in the music press of the inclusion of the final track - a cover of Mungo Jerry's turgid In The Summertime, which features Billy Idol And Slash. And as a promotional tool I see the merit, however for me this is best viewed as a bit of studio fun at the end of the album. Little has been added to this 70s "masterpiece" barring a couple of solos from Slash and some heavier drumming to take the track out. Neither of which could salvage this puerile piece if inane drivel. It may well have been a favourite song of Derek as a child, but personally I really, really, really, hate this song. Mercifully half of the six and half minutes that make up this track is silence (the good bit) with a little of studio banter right at the end. I personally can't see me queueing at my local record store for this when it is released in September.
However don't let this throwaway bit of fun detract from what is yet another marvellous release from Derek Sherinian & Co. Heartily recommended.
Solid Vision - Hurricane
Tracklist: Ivan (1:33), The Hurricane (4:59), Spectrum (4:37), Will Bring You Back Home? (6:34), Panic (6:22), Train Of Mind (5:57), Confusion (4:42), Endless War (5:59), Shattered World (7:29)
A recommendation from a few friends that I try this out, was followed by downloading a few tracks from the band's website. I now have my own copy of one of the best independent progpower metal albums that I've heard in recent years. Hurricane is the second release from this Italian band. The debut Eleven came out in 2004.
This is a highly-talented band with some skilled songwriters, playing progressive metal in the Dream Theater mould but with a very direct melodic sensibility. Although they started out as a DT tribute band, comparisons to Petrucci and Co may now be somewhat misleading, as there really is a huge variety to the band's sound. Their songs take in a whole range of influences and approaches.
Vocalist Samuele Pintus took a couple of listens to really do it for me, but for an Italian vocalist his accent is non-existent, plus there is a great use of harmonies and his voice really does suit the band's style.
After an intro, the title track sets off at a fair lick, with reference to VandenPlas, Andromeda and fellow Italians Vision Divine coming to mind. There are some great guitar licks from Brian Maillard and some exciting interplay between keys, guitar and bass. As throughout the album, drummer Yan Maillard provides a great variety of patterns and fills.
Spectrum has more of a Symphony X feel with a deeper, heavy guitar, mixed with a much lighter chorus. Will Bring You Back Home is a very Dream Theater-style ballad with piano, acoustic guitar and violin. Next up are the worst and the best tracks on the album. Top marks to the multi-faceted opening to Train Of Mind. Its heavy rock vibe, mixed with a great hook is where Samuele's voice is at its best. However not even the proggy Freak Kitchen influence can save Panic from coming across as just too messy.
As we head to the close, Confusion has another great melody but this time in a more AOR vein, while in sharp contrast Endless War is all classic head-swinging metal. It is here that I feel the band really could develop its own identity - the mix of melody, metal and some deft instrumental touches works a treat.
Finally Shattered World is a heavier version of Enchant with a hard rock chorus mixed with some neo prog. Again it suggests the band is finding its own identity - although the cheesy ending should be avoided in future!
The one grumble about this release, is the total lack of promotion it seems to be getting. As I mentioned at the start, this review comes from my own copy but I can't see a single review on the internet in English and only a couple in Italian. Apparently Hurricane is signed to Progman Records but I can find no details or website for the label. The band's website has a shop - but doesn't sell the album. The band really needs to get its promotional act together. From the nine tracks on offer here, they have a huge potential - which is currently going unheard.
Anyway there are samples from both albums on the band's website (click on 'discography' not 'MP3s'!!) and CD Baby, which also sells the album along with Laser's Edge, where I got mine for a mere eleven US dollars. Buy now!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Ebony Ark – Decoder
Tracklist: In Our Memories (1:12), Dead Men's Live (6:32), Damned By The Past (4:30), Thorn Of Ice (5:02), Night's Cold Symphony (5:01), Desire (6:45), Farewell (5:44), Human's Or Beasts (5:39), Searching For An Answer (3:30), Dreaming Silence (5:04), Ball And Chain (5.20)
This CD has been getting some pretty heavy play though my headphones of late and will be a real treat for those of you into female fronted power metal with gothic, operatic and progressive undercurrents.
Having only picked this up on a hunch, I've got next to no information other than Ebony Ark is a young Spanish band and as far as I can make out this is an independent release*. But don't let that put you off as the production is fine, the playing superb and the song's verging on the awesome. Seriously, there are several tracks here that can easily hold themselves up to comparisons with Lacuna Coil in their heavier vein.
Star of the show is undoubtedly vocalist Beatriz Albert. She has an amazing diversity to her voice, everything from the operatics of Nightwish, the swagger of Lacuna Coil and the bite of Doro. Such is her ability to drift effortlessly between soft caresses and angry bitterness, I frequently had to check with the credits to make sure there wasn't a second vocalist.
And if you want hooks, then you won't find too many more in your local angling shop. Dead Men's Live stamps out the band's intentions from the start with power and passion a plenty. Damned By The Past ups the tempo and switches between male and female vocals, soft operatics and a really swaggeringly beautiful chorus, that you just can't fail to fall in love with.
There's plenty of time and mood changes in each song, with all featuring some great keyboard and guitar solos, but which never linger more than they need to.
Other highlights include the Evergrey staccato riffing-meets Lacuna Coil harmonies of Thorn Of Ice and the symphonic operatics that open Night's Cold Symphony. For those who like things a little more straightforward, the opera-meets-metal catchiness of Desire, the direct poppy catchiness of Searching For An Answer and the ballad Ball And Chain are all superb! Only Dreaming Silence doesn't quite set the world on fire - but I guess keeping up this level throughout a debut album would be asking too much.
Fans of progressive power metal, and female fronted bands, should have a veritable feast here. This band really should have penned a record deal by now.
*Subsequent to this review Ebony Ark have signed with Transmission Records in The Netherlands..
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Riverside - Voices In My Head
Tracklist: Us (2:33), Acronym Love (4:44), Dna ts. Rednum or F. Raf (7:20), The Time I Was Daydreaming (4:53), Stuck Between (3:56), I Believe [live] (3:59), Loose Heart [live] (5:27), Out of Myself [live] (3:42) Bonus video: Acronym Love
Fresh on the heels of their international breakthrough with Second Life Syndrome, Riverside's label is keen to keep the ball rolling with the long-awaited full release of their 2004 EP Voices In My Head as an extended version with bonus live tracks and video.
Originally released by the band as a stop-gap for their Polish fans, before signing a deal with Inside Out, the EP has gained strong reviews from those able to track down a copy either from the band or at live gigs - generally in Poland.
The first edition featuring five studio tracks is now out of print. A re-issued Polish version then came out featuring three extra live tracks from 2004. Due to a huge demand from fans who have just discovered the band, or those who live thousands of miles away from any of their live venues, this worldwide release will be a very welcome move. It offers everything from the Polish version as well as a video for Acronym Love, a photo gallery, discography and an extended booklet.
I won't add anything to the review of the Polish version written by Dries for this website, other than to say that this is the band in a simpler, more atmospheric mode with plenty of acoustic guitar and subdued drumming allowing the voice of Mariusz Duda to shine through. The track Acronym Love is worth the price of admission alone. The live tracks are good quality and allow the band to show off some of their music in a different light.
Unless the band changes it's shirts at least five times in every song, then the video is basically a compilation of live footage from different venues. It allows you to see what the band look like in action but not much more. If you've already got the Polish version then it's not really worth shelling out for. However if you like the band's two albums so far and/or have been impressed by the recent live dates in Europe and the USA then this full release will come as a very welcome move.
The band has just announced some live dates in Holland in September followed by a headline appearance at Progpower Europe with a major tour apparently in preparation for late summer. Definitely a band on the up.
Conclusion: None Given
Prototype - Continuum
Tracklist: The Way It Ends (5:20), Probe (2:46), Devotion (5:01), With Vision (4:12), Synthespian (3:24), Sea Of Tranquility (1:28), Transcendent Velocity (3:38), Seed (4:42), Undying (2:40), Heart Machine (4:22), Cold Is This God (5:00)
I first stumbled across this US band at the Headway Festival in Holland three years ago. Coming at me raw, I must admit they seemed rather bland and one-dimensional. However, after investing a bit of time with their debut full album, Trinity, I was left with a more positive appreciation of their music. Two-and-a-half years down the line and the band has come up with a successor in the shape of Continuum - and my opinion of Prototype has been further enhanced.
Mixed by award-winning producer Neil Kernon and with cover artwork by the renowned Travis Smith, the 11-tracks provide a very consistent package that is a real grower.
In a similar way to basing judgement on a sole, live performance, from the first few listens here, the music really did just march out of the speakers and pass me by. But as with Trinity, perseverance pays off. There really is a depth to the songs, that takes a few spins to really sink in.
Musically it's not a whole lot different from the debut. Prototype deliver US-style thrash metal with a light, progressive touch and some blistering guitar leads. The vocal delivery of Vince Levalois gives the band an immediately distinctive sound and there's a rare polish and tightness to their sound that puts Prototype several notches above the more traditional Thrash bands.
Indeed, there are no really obvious hooks to be found here. The appeal is more in the energy and moods thrown by the ever-changing riffing, soloing and rhythms. This is not necessary a 'better' album than Trinity, but the quality of the song-writing does give it a more mature and accomplished feel than its predecessor.
There's certainly enough speed and heaviness to please fans of the likes of Metallica and Nevermore but there are some great progressive time changes and acoustic moments to interest fans from a wider sphere - fellow Americans Archetype spring to mind more than once. The opening pair of The Way It Ends and Probe will give a pretty good idea of what will follow, although the greater musical ambition showed in the likes of Devotion, the acoustic feel of Undying, and the sheer power of Transcendent Velocity, ensure the songs never become predictable.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Scott Mosher - Deep Horizon
Tracklist: Deep Horizon (8:44), The Breaking Point (4:43), A Path of Hope (6:00), Light Years (4:54), In Visible Darkness (5:29), Turning Away (3:49), Re-engineering the Mind (8:54), Falling Down (4:58), Zero Hour (3:32), The Space Between Lives (9:11)
One of things that I enjoy in writing for DPRP, is the opportunity to sit down and compile a list of my favourite albums at the end of the year. It is not so much an opportunity to show off to a worldwide audience what fantastic musical taste I have (although that's part of it!!!!!), rather it is the opportunity to seclude myself in a room for a few days and re-enjoy all those albums that haven't had an airing for a while, due to the never-ending stream of new material.
With 2006 having just entered its second half, I know that the new year period will require at least a week of self-indulgence for me to sort out a final pecking order. So far it's been an absolute orgy of great albums. Off the top of my head, the releases from Andromeda, Vanden Plas, Evergrey, Fragile Vastness, Lacuna Coil, Section A, Cannata, Venturia, Sylvan, Pure Reason Revolution, Bloodbound, Wastefall, Communic, Solid Vision, Ebony Ark and Green are all queuing-up for a replay. And based on the first few listens, the newly-arrived discs from Wolverine and 7days will join them soon.
One name that I never expected to feature on any list, was that of Scott Mosher. No offence intended, but sadly the slightly Spinal Tap nature of the term 'mosher' would normally have been enough to put me off taking this album too seriously. But hopefully not everyone is as narrow-minded as me, as Mr Mosher is the purveyor of top-grade progressive music that really deserves as wide an audience as possible.
If like me, the name is a new one to you, then here's a brief histroy lesson on all things Mosher. Scott released his first CD in 1996, entitled Ambient Earth. A pure electronic, instrumental release of new-age and rock-inspired soundscapes, it apparently bore a close resemblance to the lines of Tangerine Dream and Jan Hammer. Virtuality followed in 2001 - this time the music took the shape of a fusion of progressive rock, heavy metal, ambient and trance techno music, a style that was developed on his third CD, Inferno, issued in 2004.
Now for me, the problem with many 'one-man-band' projects is that they often seem a tad one-dimensional. They lack the subtleties and diversity that you get when you bring a collection of different musicians, with different energies and influences together. Remarkably that's not a feeling you have here. There's a remarkable depth of style to this album. Scott has managed to synthesize a diverse range of musical influences, giving the album a real band feel.
On a casual listen, Deep Horizon is a pretty direct and melodic brand of contemporary progressive metal. But repeat listens, uncover a whole gamut of different guitar sounds, keyboard layers and ambient soundscapes, that make it a captivating listen. There's also plenty to find in the lyrics, with Scott not afraid to enter neo-political territory or to become a little introspective. Damn, the man is so darn talented, he's even done all the graphic design for the cover and sleeve!!
The only outside influence is a very clever choice. Vocals are handled by another Scott - Scott Oliva. I have no background on the guy but he's got such a great set of lungs that he must have appeared on record before. A top grade melodic metal voice, with a impressive range, Oliva hits every note on the ball. He reminds me a lot of ex-Savatage singer Zac Stevens, giving a lot of the songs are very Crown Of Thorns Savatage-era feel.
In terms of highlights, I really can't split the opening four tracks. Deep Horizon is rather moody with a very smart arrangement; A Path Of Hope is more atmospheric with some lovely guitar work, and Light Years is a vintage slice of melodic metal, that reminds me of Q5, fellow US melodic metallers from the 1980s. All these tracks however have numerous instrumental passages where the mood and rhythms chop and change regularly.
Top marks though, go to The Breaking Point, an anthemic, contemporary, progressive metal rocker that uses some very clever arrangements and is one of the best songs I've heard this year. Re-engineering The Mind is an instrumental with a heavy Vangelis influence and some nice interplay between the guitars and keys. Zero Hour has that Savatage influence written all over its heavier vibe, while The Space Between Lives wraps things up with the album's most obvious ambient elements and some more great guitar work.
The standard dips a little bit in the middle, where neither In Visible Darkness or Turning Away really develop adequately from the original musical idea. A downside for some, will be the use of what sounds like programmed percussion - somewhat surprising as so much care and originality has gone into the rest of this record.
There are full track samples from Scott's website. I'd heartily recommend that you give it a go and maybe Mr Mosher will appear in a few of your Top 10 lists as well. This is currently the most frequently-played record in my pile. A very, very pleasant surprise.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Via Mistica – Under My Eyelids
Tracklist: Into The Night (2:02), Dream I: Under My Eyelids (5:32), Never (1:10), Dream II: Edge of Light (4:58), Dream III: My Eternal Home (4:49), Dream IV: Secret (4:06), Dream V: Beside You (3:13), Dream VI: Fairy Tale (3:02), Dream VII: She’s Dead (4:28), Fearless (1:27), Dream VIII: Manolis (5:23), Dream IX: Dance Macabre (5:09), Dream X: Parallel Mind (4:23), Dream XI: Believe (3:59), Dream XII: Reflected in My Last Tear (3:25)
I’m a huge fan of The Gathering, but that superb group has a lot to answer for – mostly good stuff, of course. Beginning as a straight death-metal band, it changed its sound drastically, over the course of several albums after it recruited Anneke van Giersbergen, into what’s been variously called an “atmospheric metal” or (to use the group’s own term) “trip-rock” band – although the group’s latest album, the superb Home, is barely any kind of rock at all, in my opinion. What remains, though, is the powerful influence exerted by the group’s first few albums with van Giersbergen. Metal bands fronted by gorgeous-voiced woman singers and characterized by one or another prefix – “goth-“ or “doom-“ or “progressive- or “atmospheric-“ – have proliferated, one even enjoying mainstream success – Evanescence, of course. Think especially of Leaves Eyes and Lacuna Coil; the lesser-known but excellent Canadian bands Trance Of Mine and Dream Aria; and Czechoslovakia’s weird but wonderful Dying Passion.
That’s all to say that Poland’s Via Mistica is very much working within an already popular genre, and that fact makes its job (like the job of any similar band) all the more difficult. How can such a band stand out from its contemporaries, how make an album that does something new or does old things better? Well, Via Mistica’s second album, Under My Eyelids, certainly features all the elements expected by fans of the genre. The female vocals are in general quite effective, and singer Kasia also plays the cello (a nice touch – but underused); you’ve got the contrasting “brutal growling” of guitarist Marek; the music alternates between fast, pummelling goth/death metal and atmospheric keyboards passages; the compositions all work together to tell, I guess, a story of sorts – so you can check off the elements. All that really remains is to question how well Via Mistica employs the elements and whether or not this album offers much to those who like the other bands I’ve named.
Unfortunately, the answers are “not particularly well” and “not really.” I’ll qualify immediately by saying that this is far from a bad album. The compositions sustain the listener’s interest, and the playing is several notches above competent. But again, I’m looking for something, anything, that really sets this band and album apart from others currently mining the same vein of music, and there’s just not much. In fact, Via Mistica falls short in almost every comparison. As I said, Kasia’s singing is “in general quite effective,” and I meant that praise to be faint: her voice is powerful but not nearly so appealling as that of, say, Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia or The Gathering’s van Giersbergen. And the playing is indeed more than competent – but, I have to say with a slightly disappointed sigh, so it should be – and we have the right to expect more. The songs are also pretty good, but “pretty good” won’t cut it when so many similar bands’ songs range from very good to excellent.
Nor can I really praise the band’s originality. Much is made in the promotional literature of the fact that the introductory song on this album, Into The Night, employs part of Angelo Badalamenti’s theme from that weird old television show Twin Peaks. Well – so what? And careful listening to the album will reveal some of the band’s influences perhaps a bit too clearly. There’s a passage, for example, in the middle of Edge Of Light that more than echoes a passage near the end of the mighty Opeth’s song Deliverance, from the incomparable album of that same name. No, I don’t for a moment think that Via Mistica is ripping off Opeth – but it’s not winning any points for originality, either.
I can sum up the rest of what I have to say by completing a comparison with Opeth, another band working in roughly the same genre as Via Mistica – though of course Opeth’s vocals are male rather than female, and the contrasting clean and “growly” ones are supplied by the same man, Mikael Åkerfeldt. At this stage in its career, every note Opeth plays sounds confident, even magisterial: this is one of the finest rock bands in the world at the top of its game. By contrast, Via Mistica, admittedly a young band that has made only two albums, sounds almost tentative, although (as is likely) it’s still trying to find a distinctive voice in the genre its chosen. I for one hope that it will continue to search and don’t doubt that it can find that voice. But unfortunately I have to say that it hasn’t found that voice yet.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Beyond Twilight - For The Love Of Art And The Making
Tracklist: In The Eyes Of My Soul [First Movement] (0:00-0:49), Creep Evil (0:49-1:48), Sleeping Beauty - The Journey (1:48-3:18), Purity (3:18-5:06), Sleeping Beauty - Connected (5:06-6:34), Tongue Angel (6:34-7:56), I Moved (7:56-9:23), Blackened In My Eyes (9:23-11:37), Temptations (11:37-11:56), Fiery Woman (11:56-12:34), Sweet Irony (12:34-12:56), Conversation Of The Dead (12:56-13:12), The Perfect Heart (13:12-14:11), The Perfect Heart Part II - Think (14:11-14:47), The Key - Imagine (14:47-14:56), The Perfect Heart Part III [Modulated Instrumental] (14:56-15:24), The Black Widow (15:24-15:51), The Key Part II - Naked Truth (15:51-16:01), The Kiss Of The Wind (16:01-16:19), Dark Wild Rage (16:19-19:00), Temptations Part II - Return [Modulated] (19:00-19:12), I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (19:12-20:30), Cold As Blue (20:30-21:02), The Awakening (21:02-21:24) Cold As Blue - Like A Candle You Start To Drip (21:24-21:47), Bilingues Cavendi. One Should Beware Of The Double-tongued (21:47-21:56), The Awakening Part II - The Smile (21:56-22:15), The Awakening Part III - Opening The Curtains To A Beautiful Sunny Morning Watching The Singing Birds (22:15-22:35), In The Eyes Of My Soul [First Movement Modulated With Irony] (22:35-22:55), Past The Magic (22:55-24:08), Past The Magic Part II [Rhythmic Laughter] (24:08-25:21), Nightwandering On Needles (25:21-25:41), In The Eyes Of My Soul [Second Movement Modulated With Irony] (25:41-26:00), In The Eyes Of My Soul [Second Movement] (26:00-27:03), 6 Seconds Past 6 (27:03-28:23), Organ Scientistic Formula (1) 28:23-31:23), Nightwandering On Needles Part II - The Answer (31:23-31:47), 6 Black Roses - Ship Of Rowing Slaves (31:47-32:52), Autumn Fog Message (32:52-34:26), Sleeping Beauty Returns - The Black Box Of Reverse [Forward] (34:26-34:48), The Black Box of Reverse (34:48-35:58), In The Eyes Of My Soul [Third Movement] (35:58-36:31), In The Eyes Of My Soul - For The Love Of Art And The Making [Finale] (36:31-37:52)
This could well be a new record for this website - a review where the track-listing is longer than the review itself! It's not that I'm being lazy or flippant, but with 43 'parts' averaging less than a minute, I'm sure as hell not going to bother with a track-by-track listing!
For The Love... is the third album by the Danish musician Finn Zierler and takes the form of one ongoing composition in 43 parts, lasting just 38 minutes. The uniqueness of this surreal concept is that the 43 sections are meant to be interchangeable. If you set your CD on shuffle, they are meant to slot together in a different way, allowing you get endless different interpretations of the music.
Played in the right order, the music has all the ingredients that featured on the band's acclaimed Section X release last year, albeit with a different vocalist Bjorn Jansson. But Finn has thrown in plenty of curveballs to add to the interest. The melody line of The Black Box is composed and played backwards. The bass is played and composed backwards, as if it were recorded backwards. Past The Magic meanwhile is a composition containing another composition made of rhythmic laughter.
Top marks for originality - this is certainly a complex and ambitious idea that I'm not aware has ever been tried in metal before. However, as a piece of music that you sit down and listen to, it is just an endless stream of musical frustrations. There are plenty of good musical ideas and melodies, the problem begin that they are never allowed to develop into a proper song of arrangement. It really does sound like someone playing a very long album on constant skip. And if you try out the idea of listening to this on shuffle, it sounds even more disjointed. At 38 minutes, the value for money is questionable too.
I'm always for a band trying something different and I'm sure there are those who will be able to get into the musical puzzle that Finn has set for the listener. However, I'm predicting that this album will generally be judged as not being able to reach the heights of its ambition.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Delicate Zone - Wallpaper To The World
Tracklist: Cell In The System (3:16), Guilty (3:02), Tears (3:31), Coming Through (2:26), This Is Me (3:03), Forget (3:34), Distructed (4:55), Jack's Call (3:02), Michigan Avenue (4:02), Send Cops On Me (3:07), Closing Life (4:39)
After their first demo Enter The Zone: Phase One, quartet Delicate Zone (voice-bass-guitar-drums) spent two years preparing this full album, which is not released by any label but deliberately distributed by the band, for free from their website. This they do in order to be as free as possible while writing their music. The final result is a short (38 minute) progressive metal album, with positive and negative sides.
A clear inspiration seems to be Watchtower in my eyes - without ever getting as technical, precise or "clever" as the great American metal band who "defined" progressive metal together with Sieges Even in the late 80's. At several points I also see a bit of Nevermore, without going so brutal or fast - the sound is also much more empty. Surely more melodic prog metal bands have also shaped Delicate Zone's sound: possible pointer Queensrÿche. The band though sees itself playing a crossover style between genres as metal, rock and funk, but I did not get that impression. What I see is a rather technical metal band, which at some point tries to get softer. The instrumental work is quite good, mainly the bass which is impressive here and there. The vocals are a rather controversial issue here: maybe have a listen to find out yourself. To me they sound rather weak, not only because of the tone and colour but mainly due to the style. Theatrical at moments, but not very well worked on. The singer sounds a little bit like Ingle (Iron Butterfly) at times, Khan (never left Conception for me...) at other moments, though never reaching his quality. An influence is also Warrel Dane.
Opener Cell In The System is quite aggressive and reminds me strongly of Nevermore mainly due to the sharp guitars and the theatrical vocals at some points. Slower rhythm and more progressive feeling in the second track that paves the way for one of the best tracks of the album, Tears: very Khan inspired vocals and mid-tempo, with an appropriate refrain. A more poser ambience in Coming Through, which is not that interesting due to the sugary refrain, and especially the brutal transition to it. One or two good ideas though here and there. Watchtower come to mind immediately with This Is Me, some distorted vocals here too, but mainly a memorable bass. Forget kicks off with a heavy riff reminiscent of Nevermore but the refrain is boring and an almost annoying vocal melody. Not much happens in the next track, despite the darker mood and the complex technical prog ending. Seems pointless.
What comes next? A ballad? When I first heard Jack's Call I admit I was not expecting a ballad there but finally, maybe it somehow releases the pressure and it's a break at the right time. Definitely not the best refrain in the world, but the track is pleasant, mainly due to the piano ending. Michigan Avenue departs where the ballad left us, at more melodic and calm landscapes but still evolves again in something technical and loud - big relief when it comes to its end. Looks like the band tries to inject complexity wherever it can. By the way, the vocals on this track and the next are not of particularly high quality. At least the music in Send Cops On Me is more interesting: smooth Conception-like start and alternative riffs, for the first time in the album. Still, despite the good ideas and the nice start the track ends up to be rather disappointing. After the first minute it gets meaningless. Closing track Closing Life sounds like Crimson Glory playing a War Pigs cover; also, the music does not fit with the lyrics. First 10'' solo in the album if I'm not mistaken!
Although there are good elements in this release, it is not very convincing. It seems to me that the band tries to play technically. Lots of tracks start in an interesting way and end up forcedly complex. Notice the absence of solos, the band prefers playing complex coordinated sharp tunes that after all do not say much. The vocals needs more work, the compositions too. Refrains also are not the band's strongest point and some lyrics really do not fit to the whole. Overall, my impression is that the main thing this album lacks is emotion - however you may define it. I would be willing to see how these guys evolve in the future. What you should do is give a listen and a chance: the album is available for free from their website! Maybe you will appreciate it more than I did!
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Sandstone - Looking For Myself
Tracklist: Like A Thought (9:53), Keep The Faith (9:49), Looking For Myself (15:12), Youth (5:04), Birth Of My Soul (7:33), Sunrise (7:20)
It's been happening for as long as I've been listening to music, and no doubt it will still be happening long after I'm dead and buried. You get a band from a previously under-recognised genre makes a bit of a name for themselves, and then suddenly every label is out there trying to find something similar (if not exactly the same).
Anyway that's the only reason I can find to explain why, in the year or so since Riverside rose to semi-stardom, we have had more progressive rock bands from Poland hitting the review columns than in the previous two decades. This is the fifth Polish progressive rock band I've had to review in as many months - all of which have come with press blurbs claiming similarities to Riverside.
Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with the success of one band suddenly opening the doors to markets previously out of reach of equally worthwhile acts. But two things really annoy me. Firstly, why can't labels/magazines do a bit of work and find these talented bands anyway. In the case of Poland, the Metal Mind label has been releasing quality, home-grown albums and putting on quality festivals for years with little outside interest. Secondly, and much more annoying, is that too often the bands being brought out under the headline of 'the next big thing', are anything but.
Sandstone was formed five years ago but have only just been signed up by the growing US-based ProgRock label. The band's music is a hybrid of neo-progressive rock and progressive-metal that conveys a listenable mix of Sylvan meets Dream Theater.
Looking For Myself (does that title remind you of another bands debut album?) is the band's first release and is a mildly epic, six-song musical outing chronicling one man's struggle for nothing more than to love and to be loved.
Its not as dark as Riverside (or as good), not as heavy or technical as Dream Theater (or as good) and not as well composed or melodic as Sylvan (or as good!!). There are plenty of dynamics to the songs, with the instrumental sections easily dominating the vocal ones - only one track clocks in at less than seven and a half minutes. But vocalist Marcin Zmorzynski's is a big distraction for me. The thick accent is a minor irritation, compared to the number of notes that don't hit the right mark and the less-than-endearing use of harmonies.
Those who enjoy extended instrumental workouts, that don't really have a common thread or direction will undoubtedly love this album, and I guess that the mix of heavy and light, with understated melodies, will have its fans.
But despite a handful of listens, other than the opening track, nothing manages to stick in my memory or move me at all. Five minutes into my most recent listen, the efforts of some red ants to build a nest next to me grabbed my attention. When they eventually lost it, (my attention, not the nest!), I realised the album had already come to an end.
In no way a bad album - just boring. Music to watch red ants to, is the highest recommendation I can give. Sorry.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10
Tears - Emptiness [EP]
Tracklist: Emptiness (3:48), I Promise You (5:01), I Can't Forgive What Both You've Done (1:56), Outro (0:30)
Around this time last year we published one of our now regular ProgMetal features, and for that particular issue I reviewed Tears previous release Falling Certainty. I remarked at the time that I initially thought that these guys were from Greece due to their names, although I later found they UK residents - now I'm not so sure? Not that it matters. One year later the band line-up remains almost the same, with the only change being in the vocal department - guest vocalist Mylonas Panagiotis departs and is replaced by Stefanos Zafeiropoulos.
And musically much remains the same too, with guitarist Yannis Matagos still in the driving seat - recording, producing and writing the material. His playing is fluid, complementary and certainly contains a full armoury of technique. Costandinos Corkidas supplies some tasty piano, adding greater variation to the music. The rhythm section, about whom I was slightly disparraging about on Falling Certainty, has greatly improved, and in Stefanos Zafeiropoulos, Tears have found a voice better suited to their brand of emotional progressive metal.
The EP really only offers two tracks with two short "filler" pieces. Of these shorter pieces, the first is a classical guitar driven song with Zafeiropoulos' emotional voice adding weight and depth. The second is a brief (all too brief) piano solo. The title track has many of the traits from their first release - complex, changing and with a rousing multi-layered chorus. A tricky little piano interlude follows, into the melodic guitar solo - then back to the chorus. The second track is more of the same - although perhaps not quite as convincing. Much thought has gone into the vocal arrangement and with the changes in musical dynamic, the piece remains interesting. The keyboard and choral sounds add a greater dimension to the music and again Corkidas is splendid.
The production values are greatly improved from the previous release, although still not entirely convincing to my ears, and again it is the drums that come out as the poor relation. Nice artwork by Genevieve Skalkos
In my conclusion last time I made comment that in the extremely competitive area of ProgMetal, that Tears would really have to raise the stakes if they were to compete in this field. Well as this offering from the band is even shorter than the last one, and hardly offers enough material to make any concrete decisions as to whether things have progressed or not. Personally I think things are pretty much the same. Potentially the band has much to offer, but as far as this offering goes, the jury is still out.